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New York State Budget: Panel Discussion

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Dan Clark: There are now less than three weeks before the New York state budget is due, but if you were at the Capitol this week, you wouldn't really know it. We had the usual rush of advocates hosting rallies and press conferences on what they want in the budget, and not much else.

That's because both the Senate and the Assembly were busy putting together their one-house budgets. Those are basically a rebuttal to Hochul’s plan, and it's when negotiations actually start. We're expecting both chambers to pass their one-house budgets next week. That will give us a better sense of where lawmakers stand on top issues. Governor Kathy Hochul, meanwhile, spent part of the week defending her budget plan, including a change to the state's bail laws that progressives in the legislature don't like.

Here's what she said in Rochester this week.

Kathy Hochul: We're talking about protecting society in a way that people would think is common sense. Many members of the legislature have stepped up in support, others have not. And I want to say it's courageous when someone can stand up and say, I know we need this change, I know it's hard, but I also know that it has to happen.

DC: Let's start there with this week's panel. Josh Solomon is from the Times Union and Rebecca Lewis is from City and State. Thank you both for being here.

So, Josh, on the bail reform issue, this has been something that we have just been ping-pong back and forth for the past few years. Do you have a sense that it will be a big issue again this year in the budget right now? Governor Hochul has this proposal that we just mentioned before to take out the least restrictive means standard for judges to use for certain charges. So, what's your sense on that right now?

Josh Solomon: I think the best example of it is when she was in Rochester, she had Senator Cooney there who was backing her proposal. Then later in the day, he told the New York Post that he wasn't necessarily backing her proposal, and so and where it's left right now, is a little confusing.

I think that's an indication that Senate Democrats may not have an appetite for it. The Governor wants it. It may be one of those pieces that we're hearing about horse trading in the final hour.

DC: Right, that's what I was thinking. I'm thinking if they circle back to the judicial training aspect of it, I know that was a big topic in the public protection budget hearing just a few weeks back. So that'll be interesting to see because when they were doing bail back in 2019, very few reporters were covering the actual negotiations part of it and I just remember it being so complicated at the time. I mean, that was that was the first bail law, it wasn't the amendment. So, I guess maybe the amendments will be easier. But that's something that that we're watching, obviously.

Rebecca, I want to turn to you. What are you watching in the next few weeks? I feel like this is a budget that has a lot of smaller issues, maybe a few big issues, but I'm curious about what you're looking at.

Rebecca Lewis: You know, just from my own coverage, good-cause eviction is a big one comes up pretty consistently. A bunch of local elected officials just put out a letter calling on the governor and Andrea Stewart-Cousins and Carl Hastie to support it at a statewide level because it's how the local laws are getting struck down with judges saying got to do it at the state level. So that continues to be a big issue for a lot of lawmakers.

The MTA is another big issue. It's an issue for the governor and everyone's on different sides. The governor wants New York City to pay for it, Mayor Adams doesn't want to pay for it, the legislators want to tax the rich and make busses free. So everyone's on different sides and the MTA needs money.

DC: The MTA is such a complicated issue because I feel like people outside of the MTA service zone do not care about the MTA. Like, I live in Albany, I care about the MTA because I am doing this job, but if I was not doing this job, I wouldn't care about the MTA. I'm wondering if that changes the dynamics of the conversations that people are having about that.

What do you think?

RL: I am born and raised downstate, took commuter rail, live in New York City, and it's so hard for me to tell because the MTA is everything. You know, if the LIRR (Long Island Railroad) is striking, you're not getting to work. If the trains aren't running, you're in the outer boroughs, you can't get into Manhattan you know.

I can't wrap my mind around people like you who live in Albany, people like you who don't have to worry about the MTA. So, we come back to upstate versus downstate issues and you really don't get much more downstate issues than the MTA, especially when the first thing that someone will probably think of the MTA is New York City and the subways. And if you live in Albany, what do you care?

DC: Right, exactly. I mean, on a grander scale, I should say that people outside of the service zone should care because for one, the money that you're going towards the MTA, you either have to raise it somehow and that could affect people upstate or you have to cut from somewhere else, and that could affect people upstate. So, it's something that people should watch.

Also not to mention that the MTA is literally the lifeblood of New York City, and if it failed or continues to fail I should say, the economy of the city just can't grow and recover. So super-duper important.

Josh, turning back to you, besides the bail reform issue, what are you watching over the night?

JS: Just one other piece on the MTA, it's so tied to the controversial element of the governor's housing plan, and I think that is what she has pitched to us as her top issue. That's what's going to end up what a lot of negotiations are about, well, I want to keep this intact, so what about this and what about that?

Maybe with bail, we're going to talk about housing vouchers and additional money for that. Maybe we'll give you a little this for a little of that.

We saw the governor being willing to do some horse-trading last year, including with the Buffalo Bills Stadium. So, I'm curious about what kind of last-minute developments happen on that budget and how housing plays into it.

DC: That's a really good point, because as our viewers may remember, last year, the bail issue really didn't pop up significantly until I think to maybe one week before the budget, or maybe I'm thinking of the Buffalo Bills stadium that came up days before the budget.

JS: The Bills the governor said was because of the timing with the NFL and when everything came into line which just happened to be the week before the budget that she then announced, we've struck a deal and this is how much money we're going to give, and the lawmakers said what? We're giving $1 billion for what? Where's that coming from in the budget? Haven't we just been negotiating for $1 billion for childcare, healthcare, you know and so that played a last-minute role in that she hadn't tipped that hand earlier.

DC: It should be noted that the lawmakers eventually went along with it. They were very surprised but acquiesced to that through the deal in some form of that.

So, what I'm really looking at right now in Albany is the power dynamics between the governor and the legislature. Under Andrew Cuomo, there was a lot of power for the governor in the budget process, and there still is that statutory power for the governor and the precedent there. But I'm wondering as things move forward, as the far-left flank of the legislature continues to grow, if that dynamic changes.

Josh, what do you think about that?

JS: I think that what we're seeing from Senate Democrats so far is that they're aware of kind of the power that they have at the moment. After the rejection in Justice LaSalle, they really flexed their power and they'll very quick to tell you that, hey, we outperformed the governor on the ballot. We were down ballot, and we did better than her through and through, and she didn't necessarily stump for us. So, we don't necessarily need to listen to what her priorities are. We can listen to what our constituents priorities are.

So, I think they're going to try to have some type of big show of their power.

DC: I think so too, and you're absolutely right that some of them were very upset that the governor did not do more to campaign for the state Senate Democrats in particular, or visit regions of the state where there were competitive races like in the lower Hudson Valley with former state Senator Elijah Reichlin-Melnick. I mean, that's a perfect example there.

Hochul didn't go into Rockland County, and he blamed his loss basically on that.

Rebecca, I want to give you the last word as we're looking over these next few weeks, there have been some shakeups in the Hochul administration. This is year two as we're looking at how they are doing this process.

How do you view that right now? Does it seem to be, you know, the trains a little bit more on the tracks this year or not?

RL: It's so hard to say. Going back just about the relationship between the governor and the legislature, this is her first real year as governor you know. She's been elected, she's got four years, she doesn't have to worry about a reelection, and she starts it with what turned out to largely be a pointless fight over Justice LaSalle for Chief Judge.

It leaves a lot of people questioning who's giving her this advice. Is this her decision making, is this decision making from people in her administration that she's listening to? Seeing these shakeups happening in her administration, especially at such a crucial time, less than a month before the budget, it leads to more questions about what is happening on the second floor behind those closed doors.

Does she have reliable people who are giving her good advice, or is it still sort of figuring out how to be the governor of New York? Which is fair, you know she's still newly elected, but she's been doing it for close to two years now. It certainly doesn't inspire the most amount of confidence, especially from other officials in the capital.

DC: Yeah, I hear a lot of the same things. So, I guess we'll see how that shakes out in the next couple of weeks.

Rebecca Lewis from City and State, Josh Solomon from the Times Union, thank you both so much for being here. I appreciate it.

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New York NOWNew York State Budget: Panel Discussion
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Experts from Times Union & City & State NY discuss the state budget.